Most people remember 9/11 for the day of infamy, 9/11/2001, when 19 islamic jihadists hijacked four passenger jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Two centuries ago on 9/11 the US Navy won a glorious victory against the Brits at Plattsburg, NY.
Master Commandant Thomas MacDonough USN commanded 14 warships for the US, and Captain George Downie commanded 14 warships for the Brits. The immediate result of this victory at sea caused the British Lt. General Sir George Prevost to retreat back to Canada. Prévost decided that any victory would be meaningless as American control of the lake would prevent him from being able to resupply his army.
The American victory at Plattsburgh along with the successful Defense of Fort McHenry at Baltimore, aided American peace negotiators at Ghent, Belgium who were attempting to end the war on a favorable note. The two victories helped offset the defeat at Bladensburg and subsequent Burning of federal buildings in Washington the previous month. In recognition of his efforts, MacDonough was promoted to captain and received a Congressional gold medal.
The Brits defeated Napoleon I in April 1814, and this allowed them to send more forces to America to give the Americans a good drubbing. Their military plans included a 3-part invasion of US: Chesapeake Bay, Lake Champlain, & the mouth of Mississippi River. Their biggest success was burning the White House and the US Capitol on 8/24/1814. The biggest losses were at Plattsburg, NY on 9/11/1814 and at New Orleans, LA on 1/8/1815.
The battle of New Orleans was fought weeks after the Treaty of Ghent was agreed to by British and American diplomats on 12/24/1814. News did not travel so fast back in the day, and they didn’t know the diplomats had agreed to a return of the status quo from before the war.
What is so important about the victory at Plattsburg is that it prevented the Brits from taking back from the US land north of the 42nd parallel. This would have made upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine part of Canada. It would have made Massachusetts the northern most state in America, and Canada would have had an Atlantic seaport in Portsmouth, NH. Had the Brits won control of the Mississippi River, then the US would have been hemmed in from westward expansion. The map below illustrates how different the international border between the US and Canada would have been.
Today many might think the Brits gave us an excellent opportunity to put the nation’s capital in a new place. Maybe they should have built it at the Hermitage around Nashville, TN. One has to realize, though, that politicians and lobbyists can make it awful no matter where it’s located.
We never went to war against the Brits again, although there were disputes that required treaties to establish the international boundaries between Maine and New Brunswick and between the western provinces of Canada and states in the northwest. The War of 1812 should always be remembered as an important part of US history. The defense of Ft McHenry inspired Francis Scott Key to write The Star Spangled Banner. It’s the only national anthem I know of that ends with a question mark.
O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?